Bitcoin, Burning Man And The Gifting Economy

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Careful With That Drone Now

Bitcoin was a terrible investment this year, but that hasn’t stopped non-profits from asking for them anyway. Wikipedia, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Khan Academy and now even Burning Man will take those bitcoins off your hands in the form of a tax-deductible donation.

While this won’t get you a golden ticket into the actual festival, gifting something without expecting anything in return is part of the spirit and culture of the annual festival in the Nevada desert. In fact, it’s listed first in the 10 Principles of Burning Man:

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Though a lot of money goes into prep and supplies for the festival, no actual money is exchanged while in Black Rock City except for the buying of ice or coffee at the main tent. Folks give away everything from vegan ice cream to “special” massages while there. Even clothing can be donated away. The new bitcoin option has more to do with funding year round activities outside the festival, however.

For some context, there’s Burning Man the 501(c)3 and there’s Black Rock City LLC. Ticket sales cover the actual cost of producing the festival. That’s the for-profit part. The cryptocurrency donations will help the non-profit arm of Burning Man to build out “organizational capacity,” support community initiatives and most likely help fund those giant art projects that get shipped out to the middle of the Playa every year.

Jim Urquhart Reuters BM

CEO Marian Goodell mentioned in a company issued statement that there was a possibility of buying tickets with the cryptocurrency at some point, “Accepting bitcoin for donations is an experimental first step. We plan to explore other possibilities in the future, including expanding bitcoin to the ticket-buying process,” she said.

Coinbase, a digital payment system for bitcoin, has partnered up with Burning Man to make the donation process easier. It also provides a way to give without incurring transaction fees. The startup doesn’t assess fees to non-profits. Other online sites such as Reddit and Wikimedia (the non-profit portion of Wikipedia) use Coinbase for the same thing.

Burners in Russia may want to hold onto that bitcoin, but donating the virtual currency could be a good option for those in the United States. That is, if your coin value actually went up this year. It hovered around the $1000 mark at the beginning of 2014, but has since fallen to $318 as of today.

As mentioned above, bitcoin donations are now tax-deductible. The feds finally issued a statement this last spring that allows bitcoin to be considered a property of sorts. This will allow you to give away something that would otherwise be subject to capital gains taxes.

This has also fueled adoption among a growing list of charitable organizations. The United Way, the nation’s largest charitable organization with $4.27 billion in revenue, chose to accept bitcoin in September.

UNICEF accepts them in Canada (it’s also tax-deductible there), but not in the U.S. yet (several individuals have asked them to for years now). Other crowdfunding charity sites like Crowdrise have stepped in to help raise donations in bitcoin for those organizations that are slow to adopt.

Is this a further nod to global acceptance of bitcoin or just a ploy to remind people they can donate to burner projects? Probably a little of both.